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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Skapti Þóroddsson (Skapti)

11th century; volume 3; ed. Diana Whaley;

Fragment (Frag) - 1

Skj info: Skapti Þóroddsson, Islandsk lovsigemand, d. 1030. (AI, 314, BI, 291).

Skj poems:
Af et religiøst digt

Though credited with the fragment below and further compositions, the distinguished Icelander Skapti Þóroddson (Skapti) is better known for his legal expertise. He held the position of lǫgsǫgumaðr ‘lawspeaker’ from 1004 until his death in 1030, is credited with legal reforms (Íslendingabók ch. 8, ÍF 1, 19) and was sometimes known as Lǫg-Skapti ‘Law-Skapti’ (Landnámabók, ÍF 1, 381). He is thought to have lived about sixty years (SnE 1848-87, III, 549). Skapti features in several of the Sagas of Icelanders, including Njáls saga (where he is named in a stanza, Snorri LvV (Nj)), Flóamanna saga, Grettis saga and Gunnlaugs saga, as well as in Ǫlkofra þáttr, Landnámabók, Heimskringla and other sources. He is named in Skáldatal among the poets of Hákon jarl Sigurðarson (SnE 1848-87, III, 256, 266), King Óláfr Haraldsson (ibid., III, 253) and Magnús góði ‘the Good’ (ibid., III, 262). There is no further evidence for contact with Hákon, and since Skapti died in 1030 he cannot have composed for Magnús. A drápa for Óláfr by Skapti is mentioned in ÓHHkr ch. 138 (ÍF 27, 243), which relates how, during a time of friction between Óláfr and the Icelanders (in the mid 1020s), Skapti’s son Steinn represents his father at the court of Óláfr Haraldsson and, himself a poet with a sharp tongue, offers to recite a drápa which Skapti has taught him. The king, suspicious of Steinn, demands to hear his composition first, but Steinn makes an excuse and leaves, then later makes his way to Knútr inn ríki ‘Cnut the Great’ in England, where he is well received (ÍF 27, 249). He is listed among Knútr’s poets (SnE 1848-87, III, 258, 267), though no poetry by him is preserved. Skapti is also accused, in Ǫlkǫfra þáttr ch. 3 (ÍF 11, 91), of composing a mansǫngsdrápa ‘love poem’ for the wife of his relative Ormr.

Fragment — Skapti FragIII

Diana Whaley 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Skapti Þóroddsson, Fragment’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 355.


Skj: Skapti Þóroddsson: Af et religiøst digt (AI, 314, BI, 291); stanzas (if different): [v]

in texts: LaufE, Skm, SnE

SkP info: III, 355

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance references search files


The helmingr (Skapti Frag) is preserved in SnE (Skm), and nothing is known about its context or circumstances of composition. It has been assumed to be a remnant of a Christian poem, and this is supported both by its unambiguously Christian content, and by the resemblance of its opening words Máttr es ‘The power is’ to the start of a later stanza about Christ by Eilífr kúlnasveinn (Ekúl Kristdr 3/1). The lost poem from which Skapti’s fragment is extracted was given the editorial title KristsdrápaDrápa about Christ’ by Jón Sigurðsson (cited in SnE 1848-87, III, 552) and Krist-drápa by Guðbrandur Vigfússon (CPB II, 115). The fragment is valuable as one of the earliest skaldic compositions on a Christian theme (for others, see Edwards 1982-3), and with its emphasis on creation it is wholly orthodox. Prose sources contain occasional indirect references to Skapti’s faith. He and other important Icelanders were bidden by King Óláfr Haraldsson to revise the Icelandic laws that were most incompatible with Christianity (ÓHHkr ch. 60, ÍF 27, 77), and he built a church (Flóamanna saga ch. 18, ÍF 13, 326) in fulfilment of a vow made when his wife Þóra broke her foot. Finnur Jónsson (LH I, 543) suggests that the fragment below was composed on the occasion of the dedication of the church. The SnE mss R (as main ms.), , W, U, A are used below. The half-stanza was copied from W in the Y version of LaufE (see LaufE 1979, 364) and (from LaufE Y) in RE 1665(Hh), neither of which has any independent value. The helmingr is also preserved in 761bˣ(83r), but the text there appears to be a copy from one of the SnE mss, probably W, and is not used in the present edition.
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